It never ceases to amaze me how God transforms things that seem to be leftovers into something magnificent. The leader of my women’s retreat showed us the best visual of this I’ve ever seen.
She started with the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. First, He asked His disciples to find food for what would have been over 20,000 people with women and children. The disciples looked at Jesus like He was crazy. Where were they going to find seven months worth of wages to buy that much food?
But Jesus insisted they feed the people. He knew they were tired and hungry. Jesus desired to meet their felt needs. So, Andrew brought a young lad with his humble lunch of five loaves of bread and two small fish. To feed five thousand people. He brought what he had.
Jesus took the bread and fish and blessed them. Then Jesus broke the loaves and fish. From that, Jesus fed all the people. Not only did everyone have enough, Jesus sent His disciples to pick up the leftovers. Twelve full baskets remained.
Jesus doesn’t waste the broken parts. Actually, Jesus loves those best. It is because the bread was broken that He was able to feed so many. Had it stayed five solid loaves, there wouldn’t have been enough to go around.
The leader shared about how sometimes in life we feel broken. Life comes at us unexpectedly and then,
She threw a plate on the floor and the sound echoed throughout the room. We sat there shocked, unsure what had happened. She explained how when live gets hard, it’s like we are shattered. Broken shards are everywhere. She picked up the parts from the floor, and noted how we try to gather the pieces we find and move along with what remains.
But then life hits again.
She hurled the pieces down again, resulting in more broken bits. Then she described how sometimes life is relentless and continues to wail on us. She pummeled that plate to smithereens with a wrench. I could feel the loud beating in my chest.
I tried to watch, but tears streamed down my face. I felt like I was witnessing my life from last year. My bad week last April was the first real crash. Dreams shattered, and I was left stunned. But I picked up the pieces and marched forward, trying to make do.
Then things fell apart again, and the fall was worse. Before I saw her example, the way I described it was that I felt like a piñata that had once been colorful, holding sweet things inside. Then I’d been repeatedly bludgeoned with a baseball bat until all that remained was a tattered and empty shell. I hurt.
But God began to gather my pain and reconfigure it the same way the leader began to form those bits of plate into something on the floor. She was making a mosaic from the fragments that never could have formed had the plate not broken. God loves broken people because He knows that is all of us.
Psalm 34:18 says “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” (NKJV)
When the mosaic was completed, it formed the word glory. When we let Him, God takes all our hurt, all our suffering, our pain, and shame, and reworks it into something beautiful for His glory. He wants to build His kingdom through our lives. He knows what to do with the leftovers that result from the hardship of living in a fallen world. God doesn’t waste our pain.
God is doing that in my life now. This time last year, I was in a lot of pain. I never imagined God would have me blog and podcast. He is giving me new dreams to replace the ones that died. Not that my original dreams were bad, they were just too small. God has better ways to expand my borders to reach more people for His glory. I just had to be broken first. God is teaching me not to resist when I’m broken, but to get excited. Because God loves to use the broken shards from our jars of clay and transform them for His glory.
Have you ever gone through a rough time and felt broken?
What is something good God brought in your life from pain or loss?
Last summer, after finishing my least favorite chore—yard work—I cut a few roses. I’d snapped a photo while taking out the trash the night before and wanted to decorate my kitchen. Then I noticed poison ivy had wrapped itself around the branches. I had to yank it out, or it would kill my rosebush. The poison was invisible at night, though a closer look at the picture revealed it was there the whole time.
The Holy Spirit reminded me of John 15:1-2 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (NKJV)
My friend calls this God’s CRaP – Cutting, Refining, and Pruning. God uses these ways to transform us into His image. It’s painful, but otherwise we will be choked out. God’s love compels Him to change us, though it hurts temporarily. He knows the result is worth the pain.
God’s cutting eliminates sin in our lives. God hates sin. It has to go. When I rented my place, I warned my renters about the poison ivy. Instead of killing it, they potted the poison ivy and hung it on a trellis. It had purple flowers, but this was poison ivy. I spent an hour unwinding the ivy from each branch, then trashed that traitorous pot.
For my rosebush, I had to destroy the harmful poison ivy. For my life, that represented sinful thinking where I misunderstood God’s true character. These lies were replaced with Biblical truths about God’s faithfulness, loving kindness, and tender mercies. God showed me Isaiah 1:16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil.” (NKJV) My thoughts were evil, and had to be put away so I could live life in right relationship with God.
God surfaces our sin patterns so He can remove them. The same way I got scratched fixing my plants, God suffers with us so we can flourish. God does not want to harm us. Many times when God works on me, it hurts. Deeply. I want Him to stop. Malachi 3:3 says “He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness.” (NKJV) The silver refiner stands over the flame, feeling the fire’s heat. He repeats the process until the impurities are gone and the silver reflects His face. God feels our pain, but loves us enough not to leave us full of sin. This is how God transforms us into His image.
God also refines our hearts to have space to replace our motives with His. Psalm 37:4 says “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” (NKJV) Previously, I thought this meant if I loved God, He would give me what I wanted. Instead, it means when I love God, He implants His desires in my heart. I noticed my requests changing. I went from – “God, help me feel better.” to – “God, be glorified in my life. May Your renown be my desire. May I help others know you better and point people deeper into Christ.”
I had to prune my rosebush. My shears hacked those dead branches off. Though they once bore fruit, they were now dead. Those branches had to be removed so new growth could arise. Otherwise, the old ones would suck up the nutrients the new branches needed.
Sometimes I over commit. A total extrovert, I despise being alone, and can run myself into the ground trying to do everything. I forget Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God.” (NKJV) Even areas that once brought life need to be reexamined to see if they are still green. If not, they need to be pruned. My long-time church home changed, and it was time to move on. It was hard to leave, but sometimes letting go is the only way to open our hands wide enough to receive God’s best for us.
Last year God did a deep work in me. He had me surrender all of my dreams, and let go of friends and places. The process was excruciating. My verse was Hebrews 12:11 “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (NKJV) The pruning was painful, but I’m starting to see the peaceful fruits. Experiencing God’s CRaP is rough, but the roses are worth it.
We all have those books in our lives. The ones that have such a significant influence we read them again and again, finding new insight every time. While the Bible has impacted my daily life the most, I thought I’d share other books that have profoundly touched me. These books have shaped the way I think and see life, and pushed me to better understand my identity in Christ and how to live fully and abundantly.
1) Daily Light – Jonathan Bagster, Anne Graham Lotz. This book has been the deepest blessing in my life. It is a Scripture compilation with morning and evening sections. Bagster collected these verses for his family devotions over a 100 years ago. My aunt and uncle brought my mom a little red copy from the Christian retreat center L’Abri in Switzerland where they lived with Dr. Francis Schaeffer in the 1970s. My mom carried it in the car, and read to us when we were children. Eventually, it lost its red cover and most of its binding, so she kept it in a Ziploc bag to preserve the pages. She later took it inside so it didn’t disappear forever.
A pastor from Tennessee reintroduced the book to me during a missions’ conference in Slovenia. Anne Graham Lotz had reprinted the book because of how it benefited her family. Once home again, I bought copies for all my friends. It amazed me how often the Scriptures were exactly what I needed. God knew which verses I’d require on a given day, and had the Holy Spirit lead Bagster to include them so long ago. Many corners are dog eared for easy access to let the truth soak into my soul. I can’t rave about it enough.
2) Radical – David Platt. Radical challenges Christians to examine their lives to see if they are living the American dream or actively seeking to advance the God’s kingdom on earth. It highlights the billions of people who have never heard the good news that Jesus lived a perfect life and took our punishment by dying on the cross. Jesus then rose again so we can have eternal life. When we studied Radical in my ladies Bible study, we covenanted to work through the five challenges together:
The book impacted many of our decisions: one lady bought a smaller condo so she could give more to missions and three women felt called to missions work overseas. I can’t overemphasize what having a strategy to join God’s work does to empower you to live on purpose for the kingdom of heaven.
3) The Search for Significance – Robert S. McGee. If you have ever struggled with perfectionism, seeking the approval of others, guilt, or shame, this book is for you. It shows the root of these struggles stems from not understanding our identity in Christ and what Christ has done for us. Scriptures are used to combat these lies and yield right beliefs about God. I reread this book when once again I’m trying to win the approval of people though I already have the full love and acceptance of my Savior. When friends want to borrow this book, I buy them their own copy because so much personal stuff is written in the corners. It also gives them a hardcopy to answer the various quizzes to assess their current beliefs.
4) The Purpose Driven Life – Rick Warren. We tackled this book early on in our ladies Bible study. While it uses several random Bible translations, the overall point is good – life is not about me, and it isn’t supposed to be. It is about Christ. At the end, I wrote my life’s mission statement, which was close to the first and second commandments: “My mission is to love God and to love others, and to help others to love God and to love others.” A friend keyed in on the second half, pointing out that my mentoring, evangelism, and leading a Bible study tied in nicely. I want to equip people to strengthen their relationship with Christ. This is why I am blogging - to serve as an arrow to point people to Christ.
The book introduced how my SHAPE - Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences - makes up who I am and impacts how I can best serve the Lord. I conducted SHAPE surveys with the ladies in the study and myself to understand how God could use us best. It was insightful to see how because we had different stories, God had unique ways we played into His plans. Yes, I have lots of energy and am very passionate. God loves that about me and can use me in differently than He would someone else. I can sit and wish I was quieter and more subdued or walk in the good works God has prepared beforehand for me.
5) Operation World – Jason Mandryk. If you have ever talked to me before, you probably think I get kickbacks from promoting this book. I don’t; it’s just that rich of a resource. Operation World provides insight into how to pray specifically for needs in every country. Also, each country has its own day so people worldwide pray for the same country at the same time. God uses our prayers here and applies them globally. How mind blowing! The most recent version was printed in 2010 before the Arab Spring, so a lot has changed. Nonetheless, it provides meaningful ways to intercede on behalf of the nations.
6) The Celebration of Discipline – Richard J. Foster. For a solid overview of foundational Spiritual disciplines including Bible reading, Scripture meditation, prayer, fasting, simplicity, solitude, service, and celebration, look no further. I’ve actually studied this book twice in different small groups, and learned new things both times. The book is a great reference and specifically provides a clear overview of the importance and mechanics of fasting. During the study, we stressed that by partaking of the Spiritual disciplines, it does not obligate God to bless us; however, it aligns us with where God’s blessings fall.
7) Classic Christianity – Bob George. This book sounds like C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity from the title, but instead of being theoretical, it addresses one’s identity in Christ. It covers how to be free of sin and live in God’s joy daily. I appreciated the comparison between a “good self-image” and a “proper self-image.” George explains a proper self-image knows we are sinful and depraved, but also knows we don’t have to stay there. Pride in our abilities could lead to a “good self-image,” but in Christ we are new creations and can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. It roots our identity in Christ instead of in anything inherent in us. How freeing.
8) Boundaries – Henry Cloud, John Townsend. Because I have the tendency to be a people pleaser, this book was especially helpful. It is subtitled: “When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life.” Although I still do not completely implement these truths, it helps me remember I’m better able to serve Christ when I don’t overextend myself.
9) God’s Promises for Singles and God’s Promises for Women, J. Countrymen. These are more Scripture compilations to give verses that speak to your current state of mind. This is great when you don’t know where to look. Many times I’ve gone straight to the “Bewildered by God” and “Disillusioned by Life” sections of Scripture and found exactly the truths I needed at that moment. Don’t worry, they also have God’s Promises for Men and God’s Promises for Your Every Need.
10) The Complete Green Letters, Miles J. Stanford. I warn you, you need a scuba tank to read this book because you will go deep, but the dive is worth it. The deceptively short three to four page chapters take at least an hour to really grasp, but the truths revealed are incredible. It helped fill in gaps about my identity in Christ. It shook me to realize God will not answer pleas for help because He won’t feed my flesh. Instead, He allows me to become weak so I come to a place of complete dependence on Christ and not myself.
It was really hard to narrow my list to only ten. There are a lot of other good books out there, so please share them below. I’m always looking for good book recommendations.
Building on the last blog of making holistic New Year’s resolutions, another method I’ve learned to set effective New Year’s resolutions is having SMART goals. This helps create realistic goals that I can tell at the end of the year if I’ve accomplished them or not. Too many times I’ve had broad aims in January I failed to revisit during the year. Then I’m startled at the end of the year when I didn’t meet them. Someone then told me about a SMART method to better make and keep my goals.
The SMART acronym is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound. I will walk you through the logic of these categories and give examples so you understand how best to set your goals.
S – Specific
This area has plagued me in the past when making goals. Sometimes I made ambiguous resolutions so I could say I met them, when really I had no idea if I did any better than the year before or not. For example, some of my previous nonspecific goals included things like:
“Drink more water.”
“Eat more vegetables.”
You can see the inherent difficulties with meeting these goals with the questions they raise. More than what? More than last year? More than someone who is a carnivore and doesn’t eat vegetables? It gets really murky. In some ways, I could feel good if I felt I drank more water, but there was nothing specific I could do to prove I had completed the goal for the year.
A better way to make these goals more specific is to define quantities.
“Drink at least five glasses of water daily.”
“Eat at least two vegetables daily.”
M – Measurable
As you can see from my examples above, not only were they not specific, they were also not measurable. Even the updated versions have some element of measurability incorporated into them, but they do not include specifics. Better examples would be:
“Drink at least five 8 ounce glasses of water daily.”
“Eat at least two full servings of vegetables daily.”
This differentiates between five shot glasses of water daily verses five 20 ounce bottles of water daily. The same with the vegetables. It is not just two carrots a day, but two full servings of vegetables.
A – Achievable
I have learned to make goals I can complete given my individual talents and abilities. When I aim to do things I am interested in, I am much more likely to achieve them. My goals will be different than yours because we have different interests. Also, I don’t want to overreach and continually frustrate myself when things don’t work out, but need to stretch myself so I don’t stagnate. I need balance. It would be unrealistic for me to try to switch to becoming a vegetarian. That is why eating two full servings a day of vegetables should usually be achievable.
That said, be aware life doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes I do everything in my power to complete a goal and it doesn’t happen. Once I was on a work trip where all we had was meat and potatoes in Germany. It seemed impossible to get two full servings of vegetables daily. That is ok, life happens. As soon as possible, I ate two full servings of vegetables daily.
Other times when my plans haven’t worked, I needed to reexamine and see if that is something I needed to keep striving towards. A personal example is when I made a goal to go on a hot air balloon ride. I called several hot air balloon sites until I made a reservation. Then due to weather and other unforeseen impediments, either the company cancelled my reservation or I did—five times. So I gave up. It wasn’t the right time. Fortunately, several years later, the weather was great, the timing was right, and I finally went on a hot air balloon ride. And it was even better because I went with my sister. My original plans didn’t include her, and I probably wouldn’t have gone again had I already gone. I still completed my goal, but in a different time and place. And it was more than OK, it was Great!
R – Results-focused
I know typically, experts say to focus on the results. This may entail breaking down goals into intermediary steps to help reach the desired results. Sometimes big goals may seem intimidating, but when I break them down into smaller elements, it makes the entire process less daunting. Also, it lets me gauge my progress towards fulfilling my goals as I go. I don’t have to wait until the end to feel like I are getting somewhere.
Here is an example:
“Eat at least two full servings of vegetables daily. Research types of vegetables that are best for my health. Find tasty recipes so I want to eat more vegetables.”
I want to go beyond being results focused and give some additional insight. Yes, I want the final result where everything goes as planned. But sometimes I can’t achieve everything, even when I try my hardest. So I’m learning to focus on the process. I ask myself - What am I learning while I move towards the goal? I have always been a “get her done” kind of person. However, God is showing me it is better to focus on more than just the end result. The process is where I learn and grow the most. When I rush through everything to cross items off my checklist, I miss the joy of living. I don’t want my life simply to be a crossed off to do list. What I do while I work to cross off those items is my actual life. I want to enjoy the only life I get. Also, for when I know it is partially my fault things didn’t go as I wanted– those times are covered by grace. No one is perfect. That is why Christ lived a perfect life to take the punishment for my sins and reconcile me to a right relationship with God. So, focus on the results, but don’t miss the lessons in the process.
T - Time-Bound
I have learned I must set specific time frames in which to achieve my goals. In 2008, I set a goal to write a Bible study, but didn’t have any timeline. It is now nearly ready for self-publication in 2018, ten years later. Give me a deadline, and I will strive to meet it. Without a deadline, I flounder. I need the accountability a deadline implies.
Because I’m writing these goals in January, a year may be a logical time frame. However I need to review my goals at least on a quarterly basis or even monthly. Many times I’ve made goals then forgotten to review them until October and rushed to complete them. When I routinely checked my lists, I accomplished much more. Some ideas to help remember goals putting reminders on the calendar or in a phone.
Now that I’ve reviewed how to have SMART resolutions, I’ve updated my holistic goals from last week to make them SMARTer. I added some specifics, time frames, and intermediary steps I need to make to accomplish larger goals. I also put notifications on my calendar to do quarterly reviews of my resolutions so I don’t forget what I am working towards.
Physical – Workout at the gym or exercise at least twice a week. Bring my Bible or spiritual books to read at the gym to think about deeper spiritual things and know God better.
Mental – Go to the Blue Ridge Christian Writer’s Conference in May to learn more about writing. Publish a short story by the end of 2018. To write a story ready for publication, participate in monthly writer’s meetings for accountability. Pray diligently before, after, and between writing so it honors God and blesses the readers.
Spiritual – Have daily time in the Word, and at least once a week spend at least an hour in deep Bible study and meditation so I can understand God’s character better and deepen my relationship with Him. Jealously guard this time with the Lord so it is not lost in the busyness of life that can be all consuming.
Emotional – Journal at least weekly so I can gauge where I’m at emotionally and review it with God so I can draw closer to Him in the process.
What do you think about my updated, holistic, SMART resolutions? Are there any steps I am missing or things I could add to hone my resolutions?
As I hung my new calendar on the wall, I got excited about all the new things that would happen to fill those months. I really want this year to be better than the last, but know it won’t happen without planning and being intentional. So, as I make my own goals, I will pass on some of the things I’ve learned over the years that have helped me craft better New Year’s resolutions and actually accomplish them.
For starters, consider being holistic in creating your resolutions. Sometimes I made goals in one area of life and let other areas languish. Then I learned we as people have interconnected physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional needs. When one area is off, it impacts the others. When we are stressed at work and mentally frustrated, it can come out in physical pain. When we’re emotionally upset and distressed, it can impact our spiritual lives if we focus on our circumstances instead of God’s character.
God’s Word highlights we are to love the Lord with all four of these areas of our lives. Jesus said in Mark 12:30 “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment.” Find ways to use your resolutions to help you love God more in all of these dimensions.
Once you’ve resolved to be holistic, PRAY before making any goals. Ask God what He wants you to do in the upcoming year. You may be surprised. Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” We can make all the plans we want, but if they aren’t what God has for us, they won’t happen. Don’t spend the year striving to do something without seeing if it is what God wants. When you seek Him, even if you face obstacles, God will enable you to accomplish His desires. Philippians 1:6 reads, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
All that said, here’s some insight based on what I’ve learned, and ideas for goals in each arena.
These seem to be the easiest goals to make. And then break a month later.… If you are a believer in Christ, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We shouldn’t worship our bodies, but treat them well because of who we host. Personally, I only floss because it glorifies God. One thing that helped me keep my physical goals was by connecting them to other areas. I never went to the gym until I started reading spiritual books while doing cardio. This gave me the added incentive of having time to think without distractions at home and let me do something fun to override the mundane of a treadmill.
Examples of physical goals include:
Ours minds are muscles that need to be exercised to stay fit. Mental goals should challenge our minds. Last year, I took a writing class through my county, which really helped me better understand the nuances of fiction writing.
Examples of mental goals include:
Perhaps this sounds a bit fluffy. Emotional goals – what are those? When we don’t admit we have emotions – regardless of whether or not we show them – we miss out on key areas of our lives. I have learned when I try to repress how I feel in one area, it often comes out in frustration in another area. When I examine what I feel and why, I can work through it and grow as a person in the process.
Examples of emotional goals include:
We need spiritual goals to grow in our relationships with Christ and find ways to share His love with those around us. Recognizing that we will never be fully mature here on earth, we need to keep knowing and pursuing the knowledge of the Lord (Hosea 6:3). Remember, each person’s goals will look different because each person is unique. Find something to expand your view of God and know Him better.
Examples of spiritual goals include:
Based on what I shared, here are my holistic resolutions for 2018. I recommend having at least one goal in each of the four areas, but no more than two so it is not overwhelming. In each goal, I seek to tie it to how I can know and grow in Christ.
My Holistic Resolutions for 2018
Physical – Workout at the gym or exercise regularly. Bring spiritual books to read at the gym to think about deeper spiritual things and know God better.
Mental – Go to a writer’s conference to learn more about writing. Publish a short story by the end of 2018. Pray diligently before, after, and between writing so that it honors God and blesses the readers.
Spiritual – Have daily time in the Word and weekly time in deep Bible study and meditation so I can understand God’s character better and deepen my relationship with Him. Jealously guard this time with the Lord so it is not lost in the busyness of life that can be all consuming.
Emotional – Journal so I can gauge where I’m at emotionally and review it with God so I can draw closer to Him in the process.
Next week I will post about how to make SMART resolutions to help strengthen my goals.
Now it's your turn to set your holistic goals.
Joanna Eccles has led Bible studies for over ten years and completed the year-long C. S. Lewis Fellows Program. She is passionate about discipleship and helping people know God better. Joanna enjoys coffee, traveling, and reading, and currently lives in northern Virginia.